A 30-year-old Wake County middle school is being renamed to try to change its image and rebuild community interest.
The Wake County school board voted Tuesday to rename East Wake Middle School as Neuse River Middle School. School name changes are rare in Wake County, but district leaders say the rebranding will help to reinvigorate community interest, pride and support for the school.
The new name wasn’t supported by everyone. While the school’s PTA backed using Neuse River, Knightdale town leaders wanted it named after the municipality, where many of the school’s students live.
“While some folks will be disappointed, regardless of the name selection for a school, it’s a great example of what makes eastern Wake in particular a great place to live and a great place to raise our families,” said school board member Heather Scott, who represents much of eastern Wake. “We have a community who is embracing a school and who wants to be supportive of that school.”
School administrators recommended three options for renaming East Wake Middle: Neuse River Middle, due to its proximity to the Neuse River; Knightdale Middle, because it’s in town limits; and Old Milburnie Road Middle, the main entrance for the school.
“Old Milburnie Road Middle is both long and contains the word old, which doesn’t reflect too well on a school that we’re trying to rebrand as a new and improved version of East Wake Middle,” Racheal Froelich, a parent and teacher at East Wake Middle, told the school board. “The name Neuse River Middle stood out as the clear winner for us as it’s a well-known landmark that could positively promote our school.”
The name change will go into effect in the 2020-21 school year to coincide with the completion of a $70.9 million renovation of the campus.
The renovation was a source of controversy during last fall’s campaign for the $548 million school construction bond referendum. Critics said the money was being wasted on a campus that’s not that old, while supporters said the renovations were badly needed.
East Wake Middle opened in 1989 on Old Milburnie Road in what was originally an unincorporated part of the county. Since then, the location has become part of the town limits of fast-growing Knightdale.
School leaders say East Wake Middle is a less accurate name now considering there are other middle schools located further east in the county.
The name changes comes at a time when the school has had a hard time recruiting and retaining families. The majority of students who live in the school’s attendance area are either attending other schools in the district, charter schools or are being homeschooled.
The percentage of students receiving federally subsidized lunches at East Wake Middle was 71.1% last school year, the highest of any non-alternative middle school in the district.
Not renaming it Knightdale Middle School
School board member Roxie Cash defended not using Knightdale Middle School. Wake has included town names in some recently opened schools like South Garner High School but not in others.
“I know a lot of municipalities like to have schools named for the municipality,” Cash said. “But we all know that the Wake County school system encompasses so many areas outside a municipality that goes to the school.”
School board chairman Jim Martin noted how the Neuse River is named after the Neusiok, the American Indian tribe that lived in the area.
“It’s very important for us to recognize the first people who inhabited this land that we now occupy,” he said.
The last time the district renamed a school was when Wake Forest-Rolesville High School and Wake Forest-Rolesville Middle School dropped Rolesville from their names after the opening of Rolesville High and Rolesville Middle.